A crew hired by the city of St. Petersburg has begun scanning land near Tropicana Field in search of lost grave sites, a potential sticking point that could affect redevelopment of the 86-acre site.
Archaeologists with the Riverview company Cardno this week started using ground penetrating radar to probe land in parking lots 1 and 2 west of Tropicana Field, near a COVID-19 testing site, to look for skeletal remains on the former site of Oaklawn Cemetery.
Oaklawn opened in 1900 near two other cemeteries. All three were later closed, and hundreds of graves were eventually exhumed and moved elsewhere, although some remains have since been found during various construction projects. Oaklawn housed both Black and white bodies in segregated sections.
Surveying the land is one of the earliest actions the city can take as it prepares for a decade-long redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site. Mayor Rick Kriseman has picked a shortlist of four finalist proposals that, per the city’s request, were charged with envisioning the growth of a massive tract of land while navigating sensitives surrounding the future of the Tampa Bay Rays and the history of the site, which before the stadium came along was a hub of Black life in St. Petersburg.
Derek Kilborn, manager of the city’s urban planning and historic preservation division, said crews on Monday would begin a larger scan of the area using a tow-behind radar device. Archaeologists would be on site daily from around 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., he said.
It’s not yet clear how any remaining graves would affect the redevelopment of the Trop site or its timeline. The cemetery would be the latest forgotten or partially-exhumed grave site to be discovered in the Tampa Bay area near a development project in recent years.